W. W. Sawyer, Mathematician’s Delight (Penguin, 1943)
[originally posted 5Jun2001]
I approached this with some trepidation, as when I picked it up recently, I discovered a makeshift bookmark (that had a date on it—July of 1994) stuck at the beginning of chapter four. Had I started it and just forgotten, or had I given up thanks to the author’s style?
The former, thankfully. While Sawyer may well have been a fine teacher—and this book does present that side of him a number of times—his prose is often dry as week-old bread. If you can get past the insomnia factor, however, his methods of explaining math were even able to help me (who failed calculus 101 twice) understand the uses of integrals and derivatives. Rather than trying to explain mathematics in a conventional manner, Sawyer attacks the problem for those of us who never grasped these things in class by taking what was then (and still is, to an extent) a revolutionary approach to explaining maths: tell the student what the problems will be used for, and offer concrete examples, BEFORE explaining the mechanics of the thing. It’s beautiful. Too bad more math teachers haven’t read it. They probably couldn’t get past the prose. ***